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Sam Yates


Taking note of Note


Taking note of Note

Both talented and wise beyond his years, Richard ‘Note’ has made a graceful, but very impactful entry to the drum & bass scene. 

With foundations as a singer-songwriter, he’s been able to apply his ability to create melody and vibe in an effective way, making a growing list of contributions to the soulful side of drum & bass. In just over a year, Note has had several releases on the likes of Goldfat and Vandal, and has had attention from Lenzman’s The North Quarter imprint too. 

But Note’s natural curiosity and desire to ‘mess around’ with music is leading him to explore drum & bass beyond just the liquid variant. His new EP Precious Tender Things on Goldfat showcases this exploration, and solidifies his position among the brilliant supply of musicians operating in Manchester right now. 

Chatting with Richard about his experiences as a budding producer elicits stories that are inspiring, as well as ones that are slightly uncomfortable. He’s not afraid to chat about the pressures and anxieties induced by involvement in the scene, and how he breaks those down in favour of a healthy focus on the music. 

UKF wanted to hear more about Note’s refined approach to beat-making, as well as his reflections on an early but increasingly successful career in drum & bass. 

You’ve jumped into the scene with a really polished sound. I’m keen to start with your musical background and how you got here. 

I started off as a singer-songwriter, and I still am, that’s kind of the main thing I focus on. But somewhere around 2011-2012 I started getting into dance music. 

It was around the time when there was that whole dubstep craze, coinciding with hitting the age of being able to go to clubs. As a guitar-playing singer-songwriter, I initially thought it was all garbage. But then you find the right tunes, the ones that hit you, and then you start to understand how and why dance music works, and why it’s so beautiful. 

So it was that era that I started exploring dance music, and then naturally – because music is the way I express myself – I started trying things out production-wise. From there, me and my friend Jamal (Kublai) used to produce together all the time. I’d go around to his place and we’d just spend the whole day producing – that was probably the biggest learning period for me. 

We’ve all heard Kublai’s music, he’s an incredible producer. So everytime I went around, he’d show me what he was learning and I’d be like “cool, I’ve got to catch up”. All of that was really valuable.

The singer-songwriter background would definitely help though, right? For the foundations?

Yeah, and I guess that’s the privilege I have. The musical side was never something I struggled with much, because I already had quite a strong connection with that part of myself – how I like to express myself with melodies and things. 

But one thing I have struggled with is the idea that, musically, some things work really well in D&B and some things don’t – and the things I like in drum & bass, are things I’m not necessarily good at musically. Whereas Jamal was great in that sense of knowing instinctively what works, but would struggle more when it comes to chord theory and things. 

Sounds like a good exchange you two had there. 

Well yeah, he says that he’s not good at chords, but he’s got a good ear. So he’d send me stuff and I’d be like “oh shut up”. 

What about DJing? I’ve seen you on a few lineups in Manchester and London. 

The DJing probably started before. I enjoyed the idea of DJing because it was just another way of listening to music for me. I got some software and started messing around, Jamal got some decks, and we’d just play tunes. It’s a fun way of listening to a playlist I suppose. 

But then, I wouldn’t say I wanted to “be a DJ” and then I started producing. It was all hand-in-hand. The assumption we had at the time was that if you’re going to be learning how to produce, you should probably learn how to DJ too. 

And how did you get involved with the Goldfat people? 

Once again it was Jamal. For a long time, making drum & bass was very much just something I’d do in my down-time. I was exploring another way of expressing myself, in a sound-world that was new and exciting. But I also had the singer-songwriter thing happening, where if I was calling anything my “career”, it would be that. 

So I wasn’t really paying much attention to it, I was just making stuff and sending it to Jamal. But at the time Jamal was having lots of conversations with Johnny (Mitekiss) and Grant (Mr. Porter) at Goldfat. He didn’t tell me – he was always just encouraging me to finish songs. Then one day Jamal turned around and said “oh by the way, I’ve been sending your tunes to Goldfat and they really like them”. 

Haha wow – he’s got your back!

Exactly. And just because of my anxieties and stuff – sometimes it helps having a friend that really reps you in that way. He wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t know I’d eventually be ok with it. If it was just up to me, my anxiety would’ve definitely gotten the better of me and I wouldn’t have gotten in touch or be releasing, at least that early. 

So this anxiety, is it sort-of imposter syndrome-related?

Yeah it’s like a combination of anxieties. A bit of imposter syndrome, a bit of that feeling that the music isn’t valuable. Sometimes you tell yourself those kinds of things… negative self-talk. 

But then it can flip on the other side, where you have these impossible expectations of yourself – you’re thinking “I’m not ready yet, I need to be hitting this level before I do my first release”. That terrible cocktail of all of those things at once is enough to make you feel stagnant. 

So would some advice from you be to let the tune go, send it to that label, show the world?

Yeah definitely. And a big part of that is letting go of the expectations you have about yourself, and what should happen when you do something like that. Even if you’re not ready, and then you put yourself out there and you’re open to learning and growing, positive things can come from it. 

Sometimes you get that advice like, “put yourself out there”, and you do and then nothing happens, which can make you feel bad. The problem is more about those expectations you have. So I think my advice would be more to really enjoy it – if it gives you joy, just share it as a testament of the joy that you find in doing it.

If you want it to be your career, there’s other advice that comes hand in hand with that. But ultimately, that would be a first step.

Share it, enjoy it, and good things will come. Is that the case with your North Quarter release Affirmative Action? How did this one come about?

After the first Goldfat release I had, I was sent a video of Lenzman playing it out a lot. So I got in touch with him saying that I appreciate the support, and then we started chatting. I let him know I had a few tunes and sent over a batch. Affirmative Action was the one he really latched onto. So yeah, a very organic process. 

Nice, that’s a great label and one that aligns with your sound really well.

Big time. I’ve been listening to Lenzman since day one. So it was a pretty special thing for him to be playing my music, and then to have a release. It means a lot. I have so much respect for all of the artists that come through that label, and the label’s ethos and sound palette. It definitely feels like a place I’d love to explore more and do some more stuff with. 

For sure. There’s a strong crew of Mancunians on the roster, including yourself of course. What is it about Manchester that creates such amazing underground and soulful music?

I think there’s a lot of different things that others have probably spoken about more eloquently. There’s something about the city’s rich musical history – and even more than that, there’s this sort of working-class identity about the musical history. Along with that comes a ‘do-it-yourself’ attitude, which results in a real community vibe. 

It’s quite a generous place, in that you see a lot of artists working together and supporting each other across genres. I met many of the MCs and producers I know from Manchester before doing drum & bass, because they were in my singer-songwriter circles as well. It all just crosses-over and everybody feeds into each other – you get wrapped up in the snowball of it. All of that generates really good music occasionally. 

Yeah that’s my read on it as well. Everyone collaborating and helping each other up. 

Yeah definitely. And we’ve been privileged to have some really good people who have set standards – people like Marcus Intalex. Obviously everyone knows and speaks about it, but his standard was so high. It was so genuine and loving and you could really see that in everything that came out of what he set up. 

Soul:ution was – and still is – my favourite drum & bass club-night I’ve ever been to. That was probably the last time I remember going to a D&B night where I looked at the crowd and it was intergenerational, super diverse, not purely white or male – there was a much more inclusive energy, because there was clearly a lot of love for music. 

When people set bars that high, it influences everyone in the community in some way. So that definitely contributes. But then, when he sadly passed away, it left somewhat of a hole, though there’s hope there still. 

Yeah, it always makes me happy when I hear his influence on a newer release. I think it’s definitely still thereSpeaking of newer stuff, you seem to be exploring a few different sounds on the new EP Precious Tender Things. Was this intentional – to show your skills beyond just soulful stuff?

Generally, I still feel like I’m exploring the various ways I can play around within the genre. I suppose this EP is a sharing of some of the things I’ve been playing around with. 

‘Messing around’ has always been my view on music as a whole. How I like to express myself musically, is that I’m always trying to follow an instinct or follow the thing I’m feeling. I’m not super interested in just doing whatever’s popping, or the tried-and-tested things that work in a club. That’s not what motivates me. 

Obviously the music does get played in a club, and there’s certain songs that hit in a particular way. I’m searching to find how I can create that impact while also pushing my musicality. How can I try loads of different types of music? How does it all work together? It’s the process of answering all those questions that naturally translates into a much wider variety of styles. 

It’s nice to be able to share that with people. But I don’t know if it was something I was intentionally trying to do with this EP? It’s not super conscious, but it’s definitely something that I’m exploring.

Keep It Simple, Learn To Speak, and Honesty Matters – you mention these are all mantras of yours. Could you tell me a little more about these?

After the first few releases with Goldfat, doing a few gigs, and The North Quarter release, I slowly began to feel the momentum of being deeper into the drum & bass scene, and experiencing a little more about what the scene is about. I found myself in a lot of situations where I’ve felt very uncomfortable. 

Nothing inherently bad has happened to me – I’ve been fortunate in that regard. But it’s more situations where I’ve felt like I don’t fit in. When I looked at how everybody else was behaving, and seeing all the energy that others seemed to be able to give… it’s just different to how I do things.

There’s also the working process of being a drum & bass producer. The pace of it didn’t feel right for me, I found myself feeling guilty when I wasn’t writing. I’d be getting all these really nice opportunities – some with labels that I’m a really big fan of – that I just had to say I can’t commit to. Almost panicking because I couldn’t keep up with all those expectations…

So it relates to those anxieties you spoke about earlier?

Yeah exactly. To answer your question about the song titles though – when I’ve been writing new music I’ve been titling the tracks with whatever was in my brain at the time that reflected those anxieties. For example, I’m quite a quiet introverted person, so sometimes when I need something, I’m not quick to say it. Learn To Speak is something I wrote down which became the title. 

Then with Keep It Simple, I found the sample and I just was like “yeah, I like that” – I thought that’s fine, it doesn’t have to be complex. Which aligns with the idea that I always feel like I need to explain myself and make sure people understand me. Instead of coming up with excuses and made-up deadlines, I can just keep it simple and tell them I can’t do it. 

Honesty Matters is a follow-on from that – a reminder to be honest with where I’m at and what the situation is, and that will ultimately feel healthier for me. I feel like some of the club environments I‘ve been in have felt wrong and slightly toxic. So it’s like, be honest with yourself about that. It’s ok to walk away, even if it feels like you should stay because “you never know who you’re going to meet”. Be honest, it’s ok, go home!

Positive affirmations.

Yeah, and keeping yourself safe. I’ve been lucky, like I said, nothing awful has happened to me. But then again, I’m a man – I know that’s not the case for a lot of my female or queer peers. I suppose the affirmations speak to that too, being committed to supporting and nurturing inclusive and safe spaces.

I’ve found myself in spaces that didn’t feel safe for me, sometimes there’s just an energy that’s not right. In those moments I need to be honest and remind myself I can do things at my own pace.

That sounds super healthy and self-aware. 

It’s all learning – the mantras are there because that’s not always how it goes down!

Are you dabbling in any other electronic music genres? 

No, not in a serious way. I grew up listening to hip-hop, so I do make that, but that’s really just for me as a way of switching off. Drum & bass, technically, is quite a challenging genre, so sometimes it’s nice to work with slower tempos and let the music flow – not worry about why your compressor is going nuts. I’m not saying I wouldn’t, but it’s not something I’m actively pursuing. 

From what you said earlier, it sounded like you weren’t actively trying to get into drum & bass either – so it could happen!

Haha, it could! I suppose I’m just allowing myself to play and have a good time. It’s a fun and enjoyable journey, whatever comes of it. 

You seem to be going with the flow and enjoying that process – but what are your goals for your career? 

Just doing what I’m doing, maybe on bigger platforms. Not for the fame – but the more opportunities and success I have, the more space I’ll have to play around. Like if I release on a bigger scale, I can be more ambitious. 

I don’t have any clear goals – but sometimes I’ll hit on an idea, and it might take three or four years to explore that idea. In those phases, I can have a few goals within that period of exploration. But really it’s just about keeping doing what I’m doing – see who I get to meet, make friends along the way, have conversations like this. If you told me I’d have a UKF interview a few years ago, I would have laughed. 

I’m very much a bedroom musician – spiritually that’s who I am. I’m always going to be retreating to my bedroom and seeing whatever crazy things come out of my head. 

Note – Precious Tender Things is out now on Goldfat

Follow Note: Facebook / Soundcloud / Instagram

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